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The Mastery of Seeing Beauty in the Everyday of Nursing

by | Mar 10, 2019 | 1 Comment
One way to open your eyes
to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself,
“What if I had never seen this before?
What if I knew I would never see it again?”
Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Once, while watching a nursing assistant give my dying cousin a bed bath, I was transfixed.Every movement, every action of her body, from filling the pink basin with warm water, preparing the clean clothes near the bed, asking permission to start, lifting his painful arm and swishing the washcloth now soapy and wet, moved as though she was picking, then arranging, flowers brought in from the garden, into a bouquet of summer for her beloved grandmother.

She took my breath away.

I might say I witnessed deep caring. Or that I witnessed love. But what I saw that day was different than love or caring.

Her work with my cousin was done with a sense of beauty. It was beyond form or function. It was art.

What does elevating an everyday activity to an “Art” do for us as humans, specifically for healing?

When people are ill, injured or dispirited, the world can seem ugly, harsh, and discordant. We can offer something that is in addition to our clinical care and leadership style.

In nursing, this is called the “Aesthetic Way of Knowing”.

In our work caring for others, Barbara Carper named four Ways of Knowing: empirical, ethical, personal and aesthetic. Pat Munhall added “not-knowing” allowing for a place where new understandings emerge from the void. There are many more ways of knowing.

In the day-to-day of our lives and work, it is easy to fall into the routine with the concrete ways of knowing (empirical/science and personal/your experience and even ethical, because there is a whole science and logic to that decision making).

But what of aesthetics? How does one create a universal beauty.

Nurse philosopher Kari Martinsen calls this a special kind of seeing, listening and sensing, a phenomena of openness and presence in nursing practice.

There is even now a new science, Neuroaesthetics, studying how the brain sees beauty.

Nancy L. Etcoff, Assistant Clinical Professor in Psychology at Harvard studies how “flowers may decrease stress levels and improve focus and attention…Etcoff uses evolutionary theory to explain. ‘We know that although flowers have little practical use, they have powerful effects on people’s behavior and feelings,” Etcoff said. “People give flowers for forgiveness, at funerals, to celebrate. They provide solace, joy, forgiveness, compassion.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.” Emerson also wrote, “Beauty is its own excuse for being.”

What is this need to create beauty? Why sculpt, paint, dance, sing, write poems, play instruments? Is there an inherent need, as much as for air and water?

I think there is a universal aesthetic we can rely on in caring for others. I would call this exquisite paying attention. Attending to what is around you so that there is a tempo, lighting, spaciousness that is in readiness to be present to, and in resonance with, this one person, this one situation.

Maybe it is Reverence?

Every so often, when I’m in my meditation practice and realize my mind has wandered away from my breath, I think with a sudden flash of sorrow, “Why would I want to miss even one breath!?”

I am not bereft that I missed that one breath, there will be the next one. I’m almost wounded because I’m aware of all that I miss every day; because of distraction, busyness of mind, thinking I already know or even a kind of laziness; an irreverence for this unique moment.

The bath from the CNA was not just a bath. She invoked a sense of timelessness, was seeing deeper into the meaning of this moment, revealed a part of herself she reserved for this moment alone, something  invisible, now made visible, and co-created with my cousin.

What if we brought creating beauty into the everyday aspects of our work?

What if before you enter the room, office, home, make telephone call, you call up the beauty of the moment: two people connecting to ease pain, find joy, resolve a problem, create a program, define a project, as if you will never have this same opportunity again?

What if, when you gathered your supplies, organized your meeting agenda, or planned your day, you entered it as if you are gathering beautiful flowers from the garden, thinking how this all ties together for this particular “bouquet” of tasks?

My invitation for you today: think of something you do every day,
in caring for others, that you
could bring this kind of mastery to.

The mastery of the seeing beauty in the everyday.

This, too, is Nursing.

With Much Love,


Jackie Levin


(206) 304-7703

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